Canada's Liberal leader and Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau walks on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Oct. 20, 2015. 
Photo by Chris Wattie/Reuters

White House aides turned to Canada to keep Trump in check

It’s generally best to avoid phrases such as “one of the strangest things Trump has done as president” because the competition is just so fierce, but Donald Trump’s handling of NAFTA really has been odd.

Two weeks ago, the Republican had apparently decided to abandon the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he’d railed against as a candidate, though it’s unclear if he understands the policy in any meaningful way. As Trump acknowledged, “I was all set to terminate. I looked forward to terminating. I was going to do it.”

Trump eventually changed his mind, however, saying he spoke with Canadian and Mexican leaders who convinced him not to walk away from the agreement. The Washington Post offered a behind-the-scenes look at how the president’s team convinced him to change course (it involved treating Trump like a child and showing him maps.)

Canada’s National Post, a conservative newspaper out of Toronto, added another element to the story yesterday:
White House staff called the Prime Minister’s Office last month to urge Justin Trudeau to persuade President Donald Trump not to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to multiple Canadian government sources.

The unconventional diplomatic maneuver – approaching the head of a foreign government to influence your own boss – proved decisive, as Trump thereafter abandoned his threat to pull out of NAFTA unilaterally, citing the arguments made by Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto as pivotal.

But the incident highlights the difficulties faced by governments all over the world when it comes to dealing with a president as volatile as Trump.
To be sure, this report hasn’t yet been independently verified by any U.S. outlets, but if accurate, it’s quite a revelation. Trump’s aides, the story goes, wanted to stop the American president from doing something irresponsible, and as part of their pitch, the White House staffers quietly reached out to Ottawa for help in persuading their erratic boss.

To put it mildly, this is not how international policymaking in the White House is supposed to work, though in this case, it’s not at all hard to believe.

There is, however, one additional wrinkle to this that needs some clarification. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum highlighted the other day the question that still needs an answer:
[H]ere’s the part of the story I still don’t understand: what happened on Wednesday that suddenly put a burr up Trump’s ass to pull out of NAFTA? Just a few weeks ago he sent a list of negotiating points to Congress, and both Mexico and Canada have agreed the treaty needs some updating. Things were moving along fairly normally, and then suddenly Trump woke up one morning and decided to light off a nuclear bomb.

What was that all about? Was it really because of Trump’s obsession over having some kind of accomplishment to show for his first hundred days? Did he eat a taco that didn’t agree with him? Did Steve Bannon have a late-night talk with him?
My best guess is that Trump was planning something he perceived as dramatic for his 100th day, but that’s just personal speculation. We’ll probably never know for sure.

Canada, Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, Justin Trudeau and Trade

White House aides turned to Canada to keep Trump in check